Monday, September 18, 2006

chuck klosterman on [lost] & [survivor]

Chuck Klosterman, author of Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs (which I've read) and the recently released Chuck Klosterman IV: A Decade of Curious People and Dangerous Ideas (which I haven't read), has written a very bloggable article for the October 2006 issue of Esquire. Here is the link. If you're a fan of Lost and/or Survivor, you should read it.

Klosterman spends the first paragraph writing about how people view him as an expert on reality TV since he's written about it. He wonders how anyone could watch a reality-based show when scripted shows seem to be improving (a debatable matter, certainly).

Klosterman says in the second paragraph that it's a more compelling question to ask why people enjoy reality TV. Okay, I'll give him that, it's a better question to be sure. But an even better thing to consider is the reasons why some reality shows do quite well (e.g., American Idol, Dancing with the Stars), while others are barely a blip in the Nielsen monitor (e.g., The Contender) and have to switch networks. He ends the paragraph by saying that the differences between Lost and Survivor help explain the reason why.

In the third paragraph, Klosterman consider the similarities and differences between the two shows. He believes Lost is "sophisticated," "weirdly creative," and "probably the best network drama in the history of televisioin." Well, perhaps, but it seems a bit of an overkill to say this, doesn't it? I mean after all, West Wing seemed to be very sophisticated and creative in its first through third seasons, but then it went downhill from there (until the last season, of course) and certainly can't be considered as one of the best TV shows, like, ever.

It's in the fourth paragraph that we finally get to where we've been headed: Lost may be a better piece of entertainment, but Survivor is the more significant show. Why?
... Survivor has an advantage that Lost could never construct: Survivor—like most reality programming—is powered by the overwhelming significance of jealousy in everyday life. Which is why it still feels partially real to people, even when they know it mostly isn't.
Overwhelming significance of jealousy in everyday life? What is Klosterman driving at? I thought winning Survivor was about claiming a title (i.e., Sole Survivor) and winning a cool mill. Perhaps he means that certain tribes spur jealousy in other tribes due to their success (winning reward challenges, avoiding tribal council) Sadly, he skips over explaining what he means by jealousy.

Next, Klosterman says that Lost is "based on the notion of the Great Man." (What is Klosterman talking about? Read here.) He believes Jack to be the "main character" - hey, Chuck, haven't you been watching, it's an ensemble show. Klosterman consideres Lock to be Jack's "ally/nemesis" but I consider him more to be the faith-filled counterbalance to Jack's scientific viewpoint.

And then, he says this:
On Lost, greatness is everything, and that makes the show likable. But it also reminds people that Lost is fake, and it suggests that the story will rarely show them glimpses of their own life (which, ultimately, is art's main function).
And he has now shown how he doesn't understand some of the main concepts of the show. Almost every Lostie we've met on the island - save for The Others, and we hope to learn more about them in season three - has some kind of undercurrent to their lives, whether it be dark or light (just like Adam and Eve's black and white marbles). Jack may some courageous and noble, but he chose to work his future wife's body instead of focusing on saving the life of Boone's and Shannon's father. Kate has been pretty handy on the island, but she certainly played fast and loose with the law in her previous life - and that's putting it mildly. Michael was such a loving father, he killed two women, and lied and put in jeopardy those he was the most close to. Sawyer is most certainly a scoundrel, but he didn't act like one when he told Jack about his meeting with Christian.
If Jack and Locke were characters on Survivor, neither would have any chance of winning. On Survivor, being a successful leader is a death sentence; with the exceptions of Ethan Zohn from season three and Tom Westman from season ten, the strongest players always lose.

Well, this is certainly debatable, isn't it? Richard Hatch certainly wasn't the most physically fit player, but he had the mental game down pat and paved the way for everyone else. Tina from the 2nd season was a very shrewd player - how else do you have the final immunity winner (Colby) pick you over someone he'd surely beat (Keith) to take to the finals? Brian Heidik was certainly the smartest and one of the most physically tough of the Thailand contestants, and he won. Come on, Chuck - the winners are strong in their own way, not just the way that you imagine.

Klosterman goes on to discuss his great/ungreat dichotomy, and how the "ungreat" on Survivor usually band together to topple the great. He even manages to work in a zinger on Bush: "This is why a man who deliberately positioned himself as ungreat won the presidency in 2000 and 2004." That's certainly debatable. I don't believe Bush wrapped himself in "ungreatness" but instead wanted to be perceived as "great" because he's so concerned about the safety and security of The Homeland.

Here's the final paragraph:
Certainly, not all reality shows are based on this kind of reverse elitism; Bravo's Project Runway consistently rewards genuine talent, and the characters on MTV's anachronistic Real World still (somewhat curiously) have no objective beyond getting cast on the show. There are also tangential elements of Survivor that make it unique. (For some reason, it's always interesting to watch strangers starve for nonaesthetic reasons.) But its disenchanting sociology is the underlying explanation as to why reality TV does not disappear. Its dialogue might seem coached and its action might seem staged, but the players' motives inevitably strike audiences as sadly plausible. Lost is awesome, but only so long as the story line remains intense; the moment it gets boring, no one will care. All of its Great Men will suddenly seem like improbable caricatures. But Survivor doesn't have to be interesting in order to be important. All it needs to show is the mendacity of the desperately average, and we will always
understand why it is real.

1 comment:

  1. I guess just to comment on your 2 year old ambivalence concerning "Overwhelming significance of jealousy in everyday life." I think jealousy has unfortunately become mislabeled as a boogey-man emotion. I used to take improv comedy classes in Chicago, and one thing that we learned early on was to become aware of "status" when we talked to each other. Once this concept was pointed out I began to realize that people in the real world seem to try to gain verbal dominance over each other almost every time they talk. The connection may or may not be obvious right away as I describe it here, but you soon see how jealousy informs us all the time. When we dislike those with more money, better luck, more attractive girlfriends and so on, it's jealousy. When we try to gain dominance or a competitive advantage over another person, it's textbook jealousy. But somewhere along the line we heard one too many Springer guests tell people they were jealous when clearly they weren't, while at the same time jealousy became saddled with an extremely negative and unforgiving image, and next thing you knew we had re-labeled jealousy with newer, nicer words and gained a delusional sense that we aren't jealous hardly ever at all. But, as Chuck Klosterman pointed out, Survivor like life "is powered by the overwhelming significance of jealousy in everyday life."